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Palm Pre Linux-Based Smartphone Reviewed - page 2

Good but Incomplete Capabilities

  • October 5, 2009
  • By Gerry Blackwell

The 3.1-inch LCD (24-bit color, 320x480 pixels) enables a touch screen interface similar to the iPhone and recent Android products-with a few nice wrinkles.

For example, Pre uses an activity card system to visually manage open applications. They appear as windows that can be resized, cycled through (you can easily change their order) and closed down, all using finger gestures. Touching an un-maximized card and swiping up towards the top of the screen "throws it away" - shuts down the application.

There is also a cool Quick Launch feature. From within any activity, if you drag up slowly from the touch-sensitive panel below the screen, Pre displays the Quick Launch menu with icons for the most frequently used programs overlaid on the already open window.

Powerful processorpalm pre.open_sm.jpg

Palm has not officially published the identity of the microprocessor used, but it is fairly reliably reported to be an ARM Cortex A8-based chip, a generation beyond the ARM-11 series processors used in current iPhones and other high-end multimedia smart phones.

The ARM Cortex A8 chips reportedly operate at double the speed of ARM-11 predecessors with the same battery draw. We were not able to do side-by-side comparisons with ARM-11-based products, but the Pre does appear nimbler and more responsive than most smartphones we have tried recently.

Storage is a potential problem. Pre comes with 8GB of memory, 7GB available to users. This can't be upgraded, and the unit lacks a flash memory card drive.

The biggest potential problem: media storage. Luckily the operating system includes a slick Media Synch application that makes swapping music and video files in and out over USB or Bluetooth-or over the Internet-simple enough that you can do it daily to constantly refresh your selection.

In fact, media functionality is generally impressive. Music sounds good, probably not quite as good as an iPhone, but close. (We were not able to do side-by-side tests comparing iPhone and Pre.) YouTube video also looks sharp, with realistic color.

All the bells and whistles

The product has built-in GPS, as well. It works out of the box with Google Maps to generate turn-by-turn directions.

The 3-megapixel camera with LED flash is a bit of a disappointment. Despite the superior specs, it works about as well as other smartphone cameras-which is to say not very. It's the usual problem: poor quality, fixed focus, fixed focal length (wide angle) lens.

Connectivity includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, USB port (microUSB jack), built-in Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with A2DP stereo Bluetooth support, and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g -note: no 11n-with support for all the security protocols.

Wi-Fi: good and bad

As of this writing, Wi-Fi can only be used to access the Internet, with the Pre automatically switching to Wi-Fi for this when it's in range. You cannot use it to sync with or move documents to and from a local PC. This is unfortunate because it would simplify file transfers. It also limits the testing that can be done of the Wi-Fi function.

Palm tech support told us there might be third-party applications that enable wireless local network connection, but we could find none.

We tested Wi-Fi performance the best way we could, by measuring Internet connection speeds on the Pre over our wireless LAN connected to a Rogers high-speed cable modem. We used the speed test tools at Mobilespeedtest.com, and compared results against performance using Bell's EVDO 3G cellular network-and a PC on the same Rogers connection.

When testing in the room where our access point is located, the Pre recorded quite respectable download speeds of between 2.83 and 6.8 megabits per second (Mbps) using Wi-Fi. Results on a PC hard-wired to the router: in the 7.5-Mbps range.

When we switched to the Bell 3G network (three to four bars of connectivity), reported speeds dropped to between 128 kilobits per second (Kbps) and 1.18 Mbps.

Results in both cases varied by the size of download file used in the test (the site lets you choose). Since this should not be a factor, it suggests the test procedure may be flawed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Wi-Fi results were similar in a room 20 feet away where reception is usually relatively poor and in another location 35 feet away and one level down through floors and ceilings. This suggests that the Wi-Fi radio is reasonably powerful.

Bottom line

The Pre has a ways to go before it earns its spurs in the highly competitive smartphone derby, but it's definitely off to the races. The dual interface-touch and QWERTY-is a big benefit. The touch screen interface manages to improve slightly on iPhone. The product has lots of horsepower for running apps. Multimedia features work well.

Wi-Fi performance-to the extent it's possible to test it-is good. The current inability to use Wi-Fi for anything but Internet access is unfortunate, but we can hope that Palm or some third-party developer will deliver an app in the future that adds that capability.

Gerry Blackwell is a veteran technology journalist and a frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet. Read more of his reviews here.

Article courtesy of Wi-Fi Planet

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